"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Fragment of the meeting of the Sisterhood on July 13, 2014

Archpriest Demetrius Basalygo: What I would like us to talk about during this meeting is, perhaps, the same topic that we used to speak about last time. To be precise, I would like to continue with that topic. It relates to each one of us, it is about the way we deal with the Sacraments of Repentance and Eucharist, about the relations between these two Sacraments, and about the Divine Liturgy. This topic is wide, so I think we will do the right thing if we devote this meeting to it.

However, first I would like to say that it is very good to be with God. You know, a woman came to me to confess during the Vespers this Saturday. In fact, I could not get what she was talking about for a couple of minutes because she owned up to the joy she was filled with. The woman was doubtful, “All people come for confession with sheets of paper or even notebooks, they weep and sob, but I am brimming with life, I am overflowing with joy. I must be doing something wrong and I want to confess it.” Then I saw what she was after and asked her, “How long have you been a Christian?” She replied, “For two months.” So I asked her another question, “Do you feel as if the world used to be black-and-white but now it is full-colour?” She said yes. “Everything around and inside you used to be a mess but suddenly it all changed into awesome harmony?” And she nodded. “Do you feel that your life is full?” She said, “Yes, I do.” So I replied, “Well, I know your diagnosis. It is called the excitement of a neophyte.”

Of course, there can be no true faith without that joy, without the experience of the fullness of life. More often than not, we have this experience in the beginning of our spiritual journey to God, just as we encounter God. Nevertheless, each individual has her own personal experience of the Heaven, the experience of God’s Kingdom.

Father Alexander Schmemann once said that Nietsche had uttered the greatest slander against Christianity when he said that Christianity is joyless. Really, how can you know God and be with Him, and be unhappy? Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! – Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians (Phil.4:4). The Lord tells His disciples during their last talk before His passion: again I shall see you, and your heart shall have joy, and no man shall take from you your joy. And in that day ye shall not ask me any thing (Cf. John 16:22-23). It is this experience of joy that we can return to every time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, the Sacrament of Eucharist. Eyes of faith can see the Risen Christ in our midst, and we become His Body, we become the Church, we become the organism of the God-man, as Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh used to refer to the Church. We gather in one single whole with Christ in order to ascend to the Heaven. We are given the experience of Heaven when we are still on earth. We are allowed to be the partakers of the Heavenly Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven has come, it is in our midst.

The Church has a dual mode of being, which may be expressed as both the waiting mode and the fulfillment mode. The Church waits for the Second Coming of Jesus. At the same time, the Church herself already is the Kingdom of God coming in might and power, the place where God and man are already united. This is what we get as the apex of our prayerful supplication to God, our daily cycle of services, as the completion and the fulfillment. The Church again and again becomes the Heaven through the Sacrament of Eucharist. That is why many theologians and saints, and first and foremost, the first Christian saints, referred to the Eucharist as the Sacrament of Sacraments. This is due to the fact that the Eucharist makes the Church what it is, namely, the Body of Christ.

Each time we gather for the liturgy, we must realise that we come here in order to become one single whole in God, in Christ, as well as for celebrating the liturgy, the Sacrament of Eucharist, the Sacrament of Thanksgiving. We all serve each other; every Christian becomes a priest of the Most High God in the Sacrament of Baptism. It does not belittle or abolish or question the priesthood in the Church as a special gift of ministry, as a special gift of the Holy Spirit. Apostle Peter writes in his epistle, But ye are a royal priesthood, an holy nation (Cf.1 Pet.2:9).

We tend to think that it is the priest who celebrates the liturgy, while we simply attend the service and therefore can come whenever we please and do whatever we want during the liturgy: pass a note with a prayer request, look at the church goods in the booth, have a chat with someone else, and of course, go and confess during the liturgy. We do not come to church in order to become the Body of Christ and to ascend to the Heaven; we do not realise and do not consider ourselves to be a part of the organism of the God-man; we do not come in order to become the Church, we are led by our personal desire and because our hearts require it. Our faith has become too individualistic. However, this was not part of God's plan for us because He planted the Church on earth as the place where people are united in God. We must be aware of the fact that whenever we come to church, we come in order to become one single whole, to pray like Jesus did, because it is Him who leads every service, and He is in our midst every time. Therefore, everything that distracts us from this God-man-like prayer, can be with all certainty attributed to the works of the devil. The Rev Alexander Schmemann wrote in his diary a year before his death, “It has somehow became perfectly evident to me that the devil within the Church struggles first of all with the Eucharist, with the Liturgy.” This is understandable because the devil aims at un-churching the Church, dislocating it, and making each one of us turn our attention on ourselves. Of course, he cannot simply do away with the Liturgy, although there have been such cases already, not in the Orthodox Church but in the Catholic Church.

I watched a story in the news and I'm going to tell you about it, in case you haven't seen it. The story took place in Italy, in a Catholic parish where a church was made into a shelter for refugees. They took all the pews typical of Catholic churches out, they emptied the sanctuary completely: they carried away the Holy Table and all the altarware, they set up many beds and provided accommodation to the poor refugees who badly needed it. The Catholic priest told the reporter, pointing at the bed in the place of the Holy Table in the sanctuary, “This is the best Holy Table, this is the best sacrifice to the Lord!” This is a devil-inspired substitution, indeed!

Satan rarely tempts us with pure and unmasked evil. He is a liar, this is why he always suggests that we do anything except for prayer. I believe that each one of you has encountered and tackled with such thoughts and temptations: whenever you make up your mind to pray, a dozen of very important, really indispensable, tasks suddenly pop up, so we say, “Okay, I'll do this or that, and then I'll pray.” St Ignatius Bryanchaninov wrote that everything that gears you away from prayer is sent by the devil, however important or nice it appears. We have the chance to participate in the divine prayer and to ascend to the Lord's Feast during the Liturgy. This is our prayerful ascent, this is our spiritual growth, so each prayer in the Liturgy, each part of the Liturgy is vital. We may put it in a different way: everything that leads us away from the Liturgy, from the common prayer, from the prayer of the Church comes from the devil. I think that it is wrong to have confession during liturgy.

We should be aware of the fact that confession during liturgy is only for those who make the first steps on their road to God, for those who have not entered the fullness of life with God in the Church yet. Last time we heard a remarkable example of a man who wanted to go fishing but was going past a church on his way to the lake and confessed for the first time in his life. It is awesome that it happened this way. However, if we, the practising Orthodox, begin to treat worship, especially liturgy, superficially, there must be something wrong with that. Last time it was said that we cannot set a general rule. I beg to differ. It seems to me that we have such an amazing time in our life now when each one of us should finally consider growing up and becoming more mature in our relationship with God by becoming more responsible (because maturity invariably means being responsible) for what we do and how we live. Each of us should know when we sin against the Gospel and the Church Tradition and consider changing our minds and lifestyles. Sure, there are some cases when one has to go and confess immediately, even if it is during a liturgy. An individual may stumble down and lose her connection to God. But then again, let's be honest: once we are fully immersed into living with God, after we spend a decade or more in the Church, there are few such moments in our lives. Therefore, as we go to church, we must remember that we go to church in order to celebrate the Eucharist. If we feel that we need to confess, we should do it in advance: on Saturday night or on the eve of great feasts. Confessing one's sins once a week is enough.

Archpriest Demetrius Basalygo: We might be somehow mistaken, perhaps, in our understanding of what the Sacrament of Repentance is about. We can learn the meaning of this sacrament from the absolution prayer that a priest reads after the confession. This prayer contains the following words: “Reconcile him (her) and unite him (her) to Your Holy Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord…” Reconcile and unite, because we sinned and broke away from the unity with God, and therefore we need reconciliation and unity.

However, we should acknowledge the difference between sin as an action, and sinfulness as a way of life. Each of us possesses all gifts of God to some extent, but only to some extent, and we should be aware of that. This is not the reason to go to confession. More often than not, people come and say, “I have no love, I have no mercy, I have no patience.” We do not possess these qualities to the full extent. Nevertheless, we have everything we need, all the gifts of God, all the potential that we should make manifest through ourselves. This is probably something we have to pray for. This is where we need spiritual guidance and spiritual knowledge.

We must distinguish the Sacrament of Repentance from a spiritual talk, from the spiritual guidance that we all should have in our lives, when we can ask some questions, share our opinions or ask for advice. We come to the confession in order to repent, in order to ask God to forgive our sins. A substitution happens often: we turn a confession into a spiritual talk. It seems to me that we, the clergy, must not be lax in this regard: yes, it is important to listen to people but we ought to explain to them why they come to the confession, to the Book and the Cross, in the first place. They come in order to die for sin and rise up for the new life, the eternal life. They come in order to reconcile with God. This is why talking with a priest during confession is simply irrelevant. The priest reminds us of this fact before the confession, saying, “I am but a witness.” Indeed, a priest is just a witness and a helper in our confession; he is the person who sympathises with us and prays for us. It is God Himself who we speak with during the Sacrament of Confession. It seems to me that we are losing this understanding of the Sacrament of Confession. We are capable of transforming it in anything but what it should be.

Now, in the summer, we do not have priests on duty but in all other seasons there is always a priest around in the Convent, whom you can contact from 10 am till 5 pm. There is a schedule, and we can always find time to come for a spiritual talk, and the priest will pay as much attention and time to us as we need. Is a spiritual talk possible during the liturgy when a crowd of people wait in the queue for the confession? If something serious happened in our life, something that really separated us from God, we can come to the confession (given that we had no opportunity to do that the night before the liturgy), briefly tell God about our problem and ask Him to forgive us.

We see that people who regularly go to church often spend entire liturgies in queues for the confession… Each of us knows from our own experience that (let alone the fact that we cannot take part in the liturgy when we confess) it is impossible to pray while we wait in the queue. We recall our sins over and over again, trying to remember everything and to express everything as clearly as possible. We are not here: our minds and our hearts wander in a different place. This is how we miss out on the liturgy. It may appear to us that we lead a very righteous life — a vigorous, spiritual, and pious life, while in fact there is a substitution when we leave out the most important thing.

This is what I want to tell you about confession during the liturgy. We all confess that we have a dysfunctional relationship with God, that we pray in an indifferent mechanistic manner, that we stop praying. Imagine how weird this situation appears? It is during the liturgy that we neglect the prayer of the Church. After we fall out of the unity with the Body of Christ, after we abandon the most essential prayer, we repent: “Lord, forgive me, for I neglect prayer.” I think that our enemy must be applauding right at that moment.

The next thing that we should think about is that the words of our main service, our main Sacrament, our main prayer are meaningless for us, or we make them meaningless. Every supplication and every prayer is the prayer of the entire Church. It is our prayer that goes out of the mouth of the priest and the choir, this is our common prayer. I’d like to remind you once more: we all celebrate the Eucharist. Protopresbyter Nicholas Afanasiev, one of the prominent theologians of the Russian Church abroad, writes that if the ancient saints, such as St Justin Martyr, St Cyprian of Carthage, St John Chrysostom, or St Jerome, heard that only the priest celebrates the liturgy, while all other people simply attend the service, they would not believe their ears: how can one priest celebrate the Sacrament of the entire Church? This is just impossible. Our canons say that a priest cannot celebrate the liturgy without people, without at least one or two persons present in the church, because it is the work of the Church. So here we are, standing in a queue for the confession during the Sunday service. A deacon exclaims: “Let us stand well, let us stand with fear, let us attend, that we may offer the Holy Sacrifice in peace.” The choir replies on our behalf: “Mercy of peace, sacrifice of praise.” However, we do not respond to any of these words. We do not stand “well”, we do not stand “with fear”. We do not “attend”, nor do we plan to offer the Holy Sacrifice. This is because we are queuing for the confession, we are waiting for our turn, we are preoccupied with our sins and the events of our own lives. And then the priest exclaims, calling and warning us, “Let us lift up our hearts.” – “Let us have our hearts exalted to the Heaven.” Let’s be honest. I can see clearly from the altar that the church is divided into two groups (even if they are not equal in number). One bigger group of parishioners face the altar and pray, and the other group stands in a queue for confession. So who is this exclamation for?

“Let us lift up our hearts.” I would like to say a couple of words about this brief yet meaningful exclamation. Archpriest Alexander Schmemann writes that it is frightening to remain on earth at that moment. We must be afraid of staying put on the earth with our hearts, our souls, our minds… This exclamation is a warning. Where are we? Aren’t we stuck to the earth?

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh had some remarkable life stories to share. Once he looked out of the church window to the church yard. It was a sunny spring day, the grass was green, birds were singing, the weather was seasonable. He saw an old lady who entered the church yard and dived deep into a litterbin in order to find something there. Metropolitan Anthony concludes: “Doesn’t the same happen to us, too? Here is the God’s world, here is the Heaven, here we hear the call to ascend to the Heaven with Christ and to partake of His meal. But we say, ‘No, Lord, please allow me to go on examining my own sins, I have no time for the Heaven because I face so many problems!’” And we do not notice how ridiculous it sounds! It seems to us that we spend our time doing something important and vital, and that this self-awareness, this self-condemnation is what the real life with God is all about. Basically, this is a rat race without measuring our lives up against the Heaven, without the joy and the fullness of life that is given, is revealed to us through the Divine Liturgy. And then a priest implores us to offer the pivotal prayer of gratitude to God with all our mouths and all our hearts, the prayer that will transform our offerings of bread and wine into the Body and the Blood of Christ. “Let us give thanks to the Lord.” Some of us do not react to it in any way. We have more pressing issues to deal with. And this at the time when the Pentecost happens, and the Holy Spirit descends onto everyone present in the church over and over again.

During an evening service on the eve of the Pentecost, Father Andrew said that special prayers of invocation of the Holy Spirit would be read on the day of the feast. I had just finished listening to confessions and stopped to listen to his sermon. A woman who stood by my side asked me, “Father, at what time will these prayers be recited, the prayers that are read once a year and therefore possess such a magic power? I am afraid to miss them.” You see, the Pentecost happens every day during the Divine Liturgy. Do we contemplate on this, do we realise this, do we live in accordance with this? No, we continue to queue for the confession.

We can witness the same process going on practically at every liturgy, especially on Sundays and feasts. The Chalice is already here, the Lord Himself gives his Blood and his Body to us through the hands of priests. Here we are in the Heaven, partaking of God’s meal in his Kingdom; but the confession goes on endlessly. Finally, the Communion is over and the priests carry the Chalice back into the sanctuary; moreover, a priest already calls us to descend from the Heaven: “Let us depart in peace.” This is a call and a command to go back to the world again. And we reply: “In the Name of the Lord.” At last, the service is over, and the priest has already dismissed the people but we go on confessing. The Chalice has to be taken out of the sanctuary again. And again, and again… We do not even realise that we break the rules of the most important service, the essential Sacrament. Maybe some cases are an exception but this has become a large-scale phenomenon. This has a lot to do with me and you, the observant Christians.
click on:

by Father Maxym Lysack

Monday 29 September 2014


St Michael and All Angels 2014

            The Bible is littered with angels and talk of angels, so we tend to take them for granted, which is a pity, because the whole subject of angels is fascinating and rewarding and, of course, each one of us has his or her own guardian angel. We have just heard Jesus himself speaking of angels, so what did Jesus mean, on first meeting with Nathaniel, when he said to him, “You will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending”?

The story of the call of Nathaniel can be understood as the fulfillment of his quest for the Messiah. When Philip tells him that he has found the Messiah, Nathaniel replies. 'Can anything good come out of Galilee?" At first he is rather taken aback at Jesus’ origin, but when he meets Jesus, who appears already to know him and to have chosen him, he comes to believe. What are we to make of Nathaniel's confession of faith, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel”? It would seem to be the result of Jesus' ability to “see” Nathaniel even before meeting him. “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Is the fig tree Israel and Nathaniel one of its good fruit, a man “incapable of deceit”? However, Jesus looks towards a greater reason for believing. Nathaniel's inadequate foundation for faith will be paralleled in the story of doubting Thomas. Thomas confesses, “My Lord and my God", but Jesus contrasts Thomas' need for proof with those who will come to believe without seeing.  Again the 'greater things' promised to Nathaniel also come in Ch. 2 when the disciples witness Jesus’ first sign at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. In John's Gospel, the signs point to the replacement of the religious forms of Israel by Jesus himself. So, in the miracle of the water into wine, the miracle signals the replacement of the old Jewish rites of purification with the new wine of Jesus, while in Ch. 4 Jesus replaces the Jerusalem temple as the 'place' of worship. Only in Jesus can we now “worship God in spirit and in truth.”

What did Jesus have in mind when he spoke of "angels ascending and descending"? In Genesis Ch. 28, Jacob has a dream of a ladder between earth and heaven where the angels ascend and descend. God stands beside Jacob and confirms the promises made to Abraham, saying that he, the Lord, will be with Jacob. On waking up, Jacob exclaims, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." He names the place Bethel, meaning 'the House of God'. Bethel would become one of the main places of worship for Israel before the ascendancy of the temple at Jerusalem. Jesus, according to John's Gospel, is now the house of God and gate of heaven. He is the 'place' of true worship. There is now no need for a dream or a ladder or, indeed, for a physical temple, for the point of meeting between heaven and earth is now Jesus himself, who is God incarnate. This is consistent with the Gospel of John as a whole. In the Prologue we read that "the Word became flesh and dwelt (literally 'pitched his tent') among us", recalling the tabernacle or tent of meeting of the Exodus. Jesus is now the tent of meeting and replaces the temple itself. St Paul writes that we are the “living stones” making up the “Body of Christ” which is the Church. In Christ, we are God’s temple. But the gate between heaven and earth is most especially seen and accomplished on the cross and in the resurrection. It is the cross and resurrection, which are the 'greater things' promised to Nathaniel. All the other signs of the Gospel (like the water into wine, the healing of the man born blind or the resurrection of Lazarus) are only partial fulfilments, and therefore, an inadequate basis of faith. It is the crucified and risen Christ who is the true foundation and very subject of faith. And the pinnacle of that faith is to believe without seeing and to know God even as we are known, for in Christ God will be all in all. In Jesus, we too have seen heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.
Founded in 1859, Belmont Abbey is a monastery of the English Benedictine Congregation dedicated to St Michael and All Angels.

Since its foundation Belmont Abbey has served as a cathedral and a monastic house of studies. It has played an important part in the development of monasticism in Great Britain and is home to a thriving community of monks, who still follow the Rule of St Benedict.

Under the guidance of the Abbot the monks lead a common life of work, study and prayer.

The main work of the Community is pastoral; on its parishes in Wales, Herefordshire and Cumbria, overseas with its foundation in Northern Peru, and at the Abbey, welcoming guests and visitors to its guesthouse, Hedley Lodge, and to those on retreat.

God is at the heart of the Abbey. Founded in 1859, Belmont Abbey is a monastery of the English Benedictine Congregation dedicated to St Michael and All Angels.

Sunday 28 September 2014

STRUCK A CORD by Jerry Ryan About Father Alexander Men

On Sunday, Sept. 9, 1990, Russian Orthodox priest Alexander Men left his cottage at Semkhoz, on the outskirts of Moscow, to take the early train to Novaya Derevnya to celebrate the liturgy at the parish church. He had been pastor there for more than 20 years and had built up a community that many considered a model. Alongside his normal parishioners, many came from Moscow and the surrounding towns to assist at the liturgy.
To get to the train station, he had to go down a dirt road bordered by trees. But Men never arrived at the train station. Someone came up from behind him with an axe, struck his skull and fled. Men managed to drag himself back to his cottage, bleeding profusely. His wife rushed him to the hospital, but it was too late. He died from loss of blood. He was 55 years old. His assassin was never found. Today, a chapel stands on the spot where he was struck and it has become a place of pilgrimage.

Men was born in Moscow in 1935. Two years later, the Stalinist "purge" attained its peak. Nearly 24,000 people, including nearly all the priests and monks of the capital, were executed in the infamous polygon of Boutovo, just outside Moscow.

His father was an agnostic. His mother was Jewish, but she became a very devout and pious Orthodox Christian. She had Men baptized in secret several months after his birth and was baptized herself in the same ceremony. One of his earliest memories was a Mass celebrated in a nearby forest where all of nature seemed to praise God in union with the clandestine congregation. Men often recalled this event as decisive, in that he had an intuition of God as revealed in nature.

He grew up under the tutelage of Fr. Seraphim, the priest who baptized him and was a disciple of one of the last starets, or elders, of the famous monastery of Optino. As soon as he learned how to read, Men devoured all the books that Seraphim could lend him -- and more. After high school, he began to study biology, but at the last minute, he was refused permission to take his final exams. That door closed, he began to study theology by correspondence.

Men came into contact with a circle of intellectuals who had been former parishioners of St. Alexis Metchev, a very holy and simple parish priest who lived and preached an Orthodoxy open to the world. It was probably through these new friends that Men learned of the revival of Russian religious thought in the West and was able to obtain some of the writings of the philosophers and theologians of the Russian immigrant community.

By the time he was ordained a priest, Men was firmly rooted in a current of spirituality dating from the elders of Optino, in communion with the Russian exile community and fully aware of the spiritual poverty of the people after 70 years of Soviet propaganda.

Men's priestly career did not start well. He was quickly removed from the first two parishes to which he was assigned. He finally found stability in the small rural parish of Novaya Derevnya, where he spent the last 20 years of his life.

All this time, he was writing prolifically, including a six-volume study on pre-Christian spirituality. This was followed by The Son of Man, perhaps his best-known work, and a trilogy on Life Within the Church, which studies the Bible, the sacraments, common prayer and private prayer. After his death, a sort of biblical dictionary containing 1,790 articles for Russian seminarians was finally published. Aside from these "intellectual" books, Men wrote catechisms for children and adolescents, as well as manuals of prayer for adults.

The little parish of Novaya Derevnya began to acquire a reputation -- especially among the intelligentsia. Men's auto-education was vast and profound. He could address the needs of the highly educated and talk to them on their own terms.

A few of his talks have been translated into English and give us some idea of how he could simultaneously address the poor, religiously uneducated parishioners and those intellectuals and artists who were seeking a meaning to existence. He constantly used examples from nature mixed in with historical observations, references to the church fathers, and philosophical considerations, yet always directed his audience toward the fundamental truths of the faith.

Those who knew him speak of his capacity to listen to each person with compassion and maximal attention. He spoke without notes and answered questions willingly, with little hesitation. His physical presence, gestures and facial expressions indicated a person totally convinced, sure of himself and at ease with himself and others.

During the early years of his ministry, the KGB was suspicious of Men, precisely because of his success, especially with intellectuals. His house was raided several times, and on occasion he was taken "downtown" for prolonged questioning. These interrogations didn't seem to faze him. When he returned from one such session, someone commented that he must be exhausted after such an ordeal. "Not at all," he replied. "I enjoy talking with people."

His liturgies were simple and in Slavonic, even though he advocated the use of modern Russian. He remained faithful to the liturgical prescriptions, but also encouraged the congregation to participate in the liturgy through such measures as leaving the "royal doors" open during the canon and saying the eucharistic prayer aloud. One innovation was the formation of little "house churches" where people would come together for prayer and Bible study. He would visit these communities frequently and never passed up an opportunity to instruct his parishioners.

What had been building in his parish of Novaya Derevnya came to light when Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union, opened up Soviet society. Men almost immediately became a sought-after lecturer and TV commentator. He was caught up in a whirlwind of activities and became a national celebrity almost overnight. The style that had had so much success at the parish level proved to be equally effective on a larger scale. Men steered clear of partisan politics; his message was addressed to all those of goodwill.

Those who knew him at this epoch were amazed at his resilience, but so was he. At one point, he remarked that his capabilities of endurance had increased by "several orders of magnitude" compared to when he was young. "The grace of God is responsible for this, not I."

But it seemed as though he realized that the time allotted to him would be very short. On several occasions, he made allusions to this. He had made many enemies along the way.

The Russian Orthodox church was essentially a branch of the state government until the beginning of the 20th century, when a series of upheavals led to a council being convened in Moscow in 1917-18. The council hoped to free the church from the state and restore the patriarch, parish councils and local synods.

This "Living Church" was a communist usurpation of the Council of Moscow, ultimately aimed at destroying the hierarchy and even the authority of local priests. It did not catch on and in 1927, the acting patriarch, Sergius Stragbrodsky, declared loyalty to the Soviet state.

In the fall of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Russian church profited as Orthodoxy again -- in the times of the czars, Orthodoxy had been one of the pillars of society -- became a defining characteristic of Russian identity.

Men's vision of the church was quite different. It looked to the future, not the past. It was open to all because only within it could a person realize his potential and, ultimately, his destiny. Men had a deep and real appreciation of the church's traditions, but he believed that this tradition should be alive and able to adapt itself to new circumstances.

Ecumenism was important to him. Through his extensive readings, he was familiar with ecclesial life and theological developments in the Western churches and tried to make them points of reference for reform within Orthodoxy.

Men did not engage in polemics with his detractors nor even reply to them. What he preached was an all-inclusive gospel of love that was not only tolerant of differences but embraced them. As he became more and more popular, the attacks increased in virulence. One well-known Orthodox priest put out a pamphlet -- distributed in parish bookstores -- accusing Men of no less than nine heresies, including black magic. The attacks also posited that Men was of Jewish descent and that he had "converted" many Jewish intellectuals and artists, all part of a Zionist plot to subvert the Orthodox church.

This was precisely the epoch when Russian "liberals" were having their moment of glory. There was a rediscovery of Western culture and a keen interest in the religious thought of the Russian exile community. But this moment of glory was short-lived. The economic and social models set up by the "neoliberals" imploded and dragged with them the reformist elements in the church.

The authoritarian regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin restored a semblance of order and a sense of national dignity. At the same time, however, it enabled the more conservative elements in the Orthodox church to regain the upper hand and once again ally itself with the state.

The memory of Men is still venerated and there are still those who try to build on what he left behind. The Russian Orthodox church no longer vilifies him; he is simply dismissed as a charismatic but "wayward" missionary, naive and erratic.

Men was struck down when he was having his greatest success. He seemed to have struck a chord in the heart of the nation by appealing to people's most fundamental aspirations. Through him, many discovered a different, nonsectarian visage of Orthodoxy beyond national borders, a universal Orthodoxy based on the Gospels and the following of Christ.

[Jerry Ryan is a freelance writer and translator. His translation works include The Way: Religious Thinkers of the Russian Emigration in Paris and Their Journal, 1925-1940 and The Council of Moscow (1917-1918).]

Saturday 27 September 2014


One of the remarkable aspects of the earthly life of Jesus is that he killed no one nor gave any blessing to his followers to do so. His last healing miracle before the crucifixion was done on behalf of a man whom Peter had wounded in defense of Jesus. At the same time he told Peter to put aside his sword “for whoever lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Far from blessing enmity, Christ called on his followers to love their enemies and to pray for them. Jesus waved no flags — he was not a zealot. Though the word “nationalism” had not yet been invented, no one could describe him as a nationalist. In cleansing the temple of the money-changers, he used a weapon that could bruise but not wound. In a situation where execution was the penalty prescribed by law, he shamed a crowd of would-be executioners into letting their intended victim survive unharmed. One of his eight beatitudes declares that peacemakers are the children of God. In The Gospel of John, we hear Jesus saying, “I have come to give life and to give it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Imitating their Savior, in the early centuries of the Christian era Christians were notable for their objection to war and bloodshed. To give but one example, in the fourth century St Martin of Tours — at the time a military officer — explained to the emperor Julian Caesar (later to be known as Julian the Apostate) his reason for refusing to take part in an impending battle. “I am a soldier of Christ,” he said “To take part in war is forbidden to me.” His explanation makes one recall a definition of the Church given by Clement of Alexandria in the second century: “The Church is an army that sheds no blood.” We still see a trace of this commitment in the canons that forbid anyone to serve at the altar who has killed another human being.

How very distant the words of Clement and the witness of St Martin seem to the modern Christian! Who today would imagine that Christians belong to an army that sheds no blood? In many parts of the Christian world, a conscientious objector to war would be regarded as belonging to a peculiar Protestant sect. The disease of nationalism has infected many of us — influencing us so powerfully that we are not ashamed to adapt our reading of the Gospel so that it does not impede the demands of national identity, whatever that identity may be. Thus in many wars we find Christians on both sides obediently killing each other as well as anyone else who has been identified as the enemy. God alone knows how many millions died in the wars of the twentieth century. Even today both Catholic and Orthodox Christians are killing each other in Ukraine, to give but one example from the many wars being fought as we meet in this pacific monastery. How many bishops have blessed the weapons of war, how few have been the bishops who blessed those who refused to use those weapons. We frequently say, sing and chant the words “Blessed are the peacemakers” but our complicity in fighting wars suggests many Christians would prefer Jesus to have said “Blessed are the warmakers.”

I am reminded of these challenging words from St John Chrysostom, who died in exile for displeasing the imperial court. He said:

It is certainly a finer and a more wonderful thing to change the mind of enemies and to bring them to another way of thinking than to kill them (especially when [we consider that the Apostles] were only Twelve and the world was full of wolves). We ought to be ashamed of ourselves, we who act so very differently [than the Apostles] and rush like wolves upon our foes. So long as we are sheep, we have the victory; but if we are wolves, we are beaten — for then the help of the shepherd is withdrawn from us, for he feeds sheep not wolves … [And can violent people dare to receive communion?] What excuse shall we have if, eating of the Lamb [of Christ], we become as wolves? If, led like sheep into pasture, we behave as though we were ravening lions? This mystery [of the Eucharist] requires that we should be innocent not only of violence but of all enmity, however slight, for this is the mystery of peace. [Homilies on Matthew, XXXIII; translation from St John Chrysostom: Pastor and Preacher by Donald Attwater (London: Harvill Press, 1959), p 72.]

May St John Chrysostom be with us in this conversation.

Here we are, a small gathering of Christians from both East and West who have come together in peace to explore the beatitude of peacemaking and how that beatitude might reshape our lives and renew our churches. We have heard some very helpful papers and now there are a few of us who have been invited to discuss what we have heard so far. The first part of the exchange will involve just the panelists, the second all of us.

There are five of us present at this table. Let me very briefly introduce us.

I start with Dr. Amal Dibo who comes to us from Lebanon. She is a former UNICEF program officer in charge of emergency assistance to the displaced; she was also responsible for a nationwide vaccination program that cut across lines of division and led education programs on human rights. She is one of the editors of Sawa, a magazine for children educating them about togetherness and peace. Presently she is teaching history of civilization at the American University of Beirut. She is active with several NGOs working for art, science, culture and peace. She has represented her church in the Middle East Council of Churches, work that allowed her to connect with such eminent Orthodox figures Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Olivier Clement. For many years she has worked closely with a great advocate and exemplar of peacemaking, Metropolitan George Khodr of Mount Lebanon. She has spent her life studying, working, writing and praying for peace in areas suffering the calamity of war.

Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis has been director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies the past fourteen years. He studied theology in Thessaloniki, then went on to study ancient and medieval philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. His doctoral thesis dealt with the issue of Greek identity and anti-westernism in the Greek theology of the nineteen sixties. He has published three books and many articles dealing with such topics as the eschatological dimension of Christianity, the dialogue between Orthodox Christianity and modernity, theology and modern literature, religion and multiculturalism, religious nationalism and fundamentalism, and issues of renewal and reformation in Eastern Orthodoxy. He is editor of the English-language theological series “Doxa & Praxis: Exploring Orthodox Theology”. Besides his work at Volos, he teaches systematic theology at the Hellenic Open University in Thessaloniki and at St. Sergius Institute of Orthodox Theology in Paris. His most recent book has the title Orthodoxy and Political Theology.

Dr Konstantin Sigov is professor of philosophy and religious studies at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla in Ukraine where he also directs the Center of European Humanities Research. In 1992 he founded the cultural and publishing association “Spirit and Letter”, of which he is director. The project has involved such scholars and philosophers such as Paul Ricoeur, Reinhard Kozellek, Arvo Pärt and Kallistos Ware, and published such authors as Bartholomeos I, Walter Kasper, Rowan Williams, Enzo Bianchi and Michel van Parys. Much of his work has focused on the ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. Since the year 2000, he has organized an annual international ecumenical forum. A prolific author, one of his areas of concentration has been the history of culture. He has lectured at the Sorbonne, Oxford, Stanford, Rome, Geneva and Louvain. The French Ministry of Education has conferred on him the order of chevalier in the Ordre des Palmes Academiques.

Alexander Ogorodnikov was born in 1950. At age seventeen, he was a lathe operator at a clock factory. Three years later he began philosophy studies at the University of the Urals in Sverdlovsk, only to be expelled in 1971 for “a dissident way of thinking incompatible with the title of Komsomol member and student.” He then went to Moscow where he studied at the Institute of Cinematography, from which he was again expelled, in this case for attempting to make a film on religious life. In 1974 he founded the Christian Seminar. Later he became a prisoner at Perm 36, the notorious camp for dissidents located in the Urals near the Siberian border. In 1987 he was finally released at the order of Mikhail Gorbachev. After his return to Moscow, he founded the Christian Mercy Society, a group assisting the hungry and homeless with a special concern for homeless children and adolescents. In 1995, Ogorodnikov set up the “Island of Hope” in Moscow, a center and orphanage for girls, victims of poverty, crime, drug addiction, parental neglect and extreme abuse. A biography of Alexander in English entitled Dissident for Life was published several years ago.

As for myself, I am Jim Forest. I come from the United States but the Netherlands has been my home for the past 37 years. In 1961 I was given an early discharge from the U.S. Navy as a conscientious objector. In 1969-1970, during the Vietnam War, I spent a year in prison for interfering with the military conscription system. In 1977 I was appointed General Secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, the work that brought me to Holland. Since 1988 I have served as International Secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. I am the author of various books including Praying With Icons, The Road to Emmaus, Ladder of the Beatitudes and biographies of Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. My most recent book is Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment. I am a member of St Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam.

The panel members met yesterday afternoon to reflect on issues raised in the various lectures do far presented. Here are seven questions for discussion:

1. A century ago, Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians were killing each other. No church said “No!” Today Christians, many of them Orthodox, in Ukraine and Russia are killing each other. For many it is both a religious and national duty. What can we and our churches say that might help bring peace?

2. Nationalism easily becomes its own religion, with churches often seen as guardians less of the Gospel than national identity. How can this be changed?

3. The shortest of questions: Does the church bless weapons and war? But does the church in reality in various ways become an accomplice to war?

4. In the last century millions of Christians died, and now severe persecution is happening in the Middle East and other parts of the world. How can we respond?

5. We are told by Christ to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek. How do we translate this into life in today’s world?

6. We have talked about the divine gift of peace in the soul- and the always temporary gift of peace in the world. ls there the temptation of ignoring the second in favor of the first?

7. Fundamentalism is a problem in all religions. How do we respond to it as Orthodox Christians?

— Jim Forest

* * *

Sunday 21 September 2014


Look at the new magazine on Catholic=Orthodox Relations.   The is a lot of material in one place, and it is still growing


 Here is another Cardinal, Cardinal Burke, who is against Cardinal Walter Kasper's position. I do not think that Cardinal Burke understands Cardinal Kasper. I shall write a commentary, trying to do justice to both sides while supporting Cardinal Kasper

The chief problem is one that has dogged the Church ever since Vatican II. The secular press knows only two positions, both taken from secular politics: they are "conservative" and "liberal" These are not adequate categories for describing schools of Catholic thought. Hence, the media interprets many statements by Pope Francis and by Cardinal Kasper and his ilk as liberal statements, and they certainly can bear a liberal interpretation.   Nevertheless neither Pope Francis nor Cardinal Kasper are liberals; and, when they are interpreted in a liberal context, the meaning of their statements is falsified.  In the first tape, Cardinal Kasper says that Pope Francis is not a liberal: he is a radical.   Interpreting his statements as liberal leads many people, including Cardinal Burke, to miss the main thrust of the argument.   I hope to show this to be the case after you have listened to both cardinals and read Cardinal Angelo Scola's contribution.

It is important to understand that both sides completely accept the traditional Catholic interpretation of Christ's words on marriage, because Cardinal Burke does not seem to realise that.   Hence his reply that simply repeats this interpretation is inadequate and misses the point of Cardinal Kasper's argument (and that of the Pope).   The position of Cardinal Burke etc implies that law has the last word.   On the other hand, Cardinal Kasper argues that it is of the essence of Christianity that God's mercy frees those who fall into a trap from which they cannot escape, even when the trap has been formed by Our Lord's own teaching, even when they are there through their own fault, as long as they repent the process by which they got there.   God's love in Christ sets them free.  Mercy, not the law, has the last word.

It is central to the Church's message and vocation.   The rules exist for man, not man for the rules, however good and sound the rules may be.  This is what Pope Francis meant when, talking about homosexuals, he said, "Who am I to judge?"   He is not a liberal supporting homosexuality.   He follows the Catholic teaching on homosexuality as "son of the Church"; but, in spite of that, he believes passionately that his approach to homosexuals as a Christian must not be judgement and condemnation but the Gospel of the constant love of God for them that is manifested on the Cross.   Again, Cardinal Kasper is not supporting second marriages.   He is not saying that it is O.K. to live with a partner and have sex with him or her outside Catholic wedlock: he is suggesting that people living in a non-Christian situation from which they cannot escape even after repentance without making matters worse, should be presented with Jesus and not the law'   The law was never meant to be an impediment to union with Christ, and they need communion as much as anyone. 

  In my reply, I shall give concrete examples of such of situations like that.   We are talking of real people and the Church radically following the Gospel of mercy.

The Church has two tasks: to preach the will of God as it has been revealed to us, and to manifest to all the constant love of God.   It has been suggested that the Orthodox practice is closer to reality than ours.   There are two pastoral ways to treat a person who has gone against the teaching of Christ and of the Church and is returning to the Church: one is justice and the other is mercy; and it is up to the bishop, priest or spiritual father to decide which way to follow, taking the good of the person as his guide.   More about that later on.


 Scola: Four Solutions for the Divorced and Remarried
my source: S. Magister

Cardinal Angelo Scola
 And the fourth is the newest: to entrust the verification of the validity of a marriage directly to the bishop or one of his delegates, in a nonjudicial forum. With the archbishop of the Milan, there are now ten cardinals who have taken the field against the ideas of Kasper-Bergoglio.

ROME, September 22, 2014 – With the synod approaching, the clash between supporters of change and defenders of the bimillennial doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church in the matter of marriage is becoming ever more heated.

The clash is being fought also and above all at the highest levels of the hierarchy, among cardinals of the first rank. In particular over the dilemma of whether or not to give sacramental communion to divorced Catholics who have remarried civilly.

The innovators have their combative leader in the German cardinal and theologian Walter Kasper. No other cardinal has yet taken sides with him publicly in a substantiated form. The only one who has promised to support him has been Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich, who announced that he will bring a document to the synod signed by the German bishops in favor of the change.

But it is no mystery that Pope Francis is on Kasper’s side, although he has never publicly and clearly stated what his thinking is, but has implied this with the simple gesture of entrusting to Kasper the introductory presentation at the consistory last February, a dry run for the upcoming synod, and of “agreeing” with him - as Kasper himself revealed - on the proposals for change contained in the presentation.

On the contrary, the cardinals who have spoken out against Kasper’s ideas and in defense of the traditional doctrine and practice are numerous and prominent.

Five of these did so early on and repeatedly, most recently all together in a book that is about to be published in the United States and Italy. They are cardinals Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Walter Brandmüller, Raymond L. Burke, Velasio De Paolis, and Carlo Caffarra.

Another five cardinals have spoken out in public and in a thoroughly developed form: the Spaniard Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, Toronto archbishop Thomas Collins, the Australian George Pell, prefect of the newly created secretariat for the economy in the curia, the other Canadian, Marc Ouellet, prefect of the congregation for bishops, and Milan archbishop Angelo Scola.

Pell made his remarks in the preface to a book that is also about to come out in the United States and Italy.

While Ouellet and Scola have weighed in with two extensive articles in the latest issue of the North American edition of “Communio,” the international theological journal founded in the early 1970’s by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger.

Of these ten cardinals, six will take part in the upcoming synod, specifically cardinals Müller, Burke, Caffarra, Pell, Ouellet, Scola.

But there will also be other cardinals at the synod who are solidly established as defenders of tradition, like Péter Erdö, who will present the general relation, Timothy M. Dolan, Willem Jacobus Eijk, Christoph Schönborn, Angelo Amato, Mauro Piacenza, Elio Sgreccia, Angelo Bagnasco.

What follows is a selection from the article that Cardinal Scola published in “Communio,” and republished in the last issue of the Bologna-based magazine “Il Regno.”

Of particular interest, in the selection, are the solutions proposed for the problem of communion for the divorced and remarried.

They are four proposals made in full continuity with the traditional doctrine and practice on marriage, but not devoid of innovative elements. Which concern:

- spiritual communion, or “of desire”;
- recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation even without absolution;
- sexual continence while remaining in the civil union;
- the verification of the validity or invalidity of a marriage not only by the diocesan tribunals or the Rota, but also with a more streamlined nonjudicial canonical procedure under the supervision of the local bishop.

This last new procedure is proposed by Cardinal Scola in detailed form. It can be expected to find an attentive audience at the synod.

With the same intention of “simplifying the procedure, making it more streamlined,” Pope Francis instituted a special commission last August 27 for the reform of canonical matrimonial processes, with the warning of “safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of marriage.”



by Angelo Scola

[…] What has just been said must be kept in mind when we address sensitive topics involving particular suffering, such as the topic of the divorced and remarried. Those who, after a failure of their marital common life, have established a new bond are denied access to the sacrament of Reconciliation and to the Eucharist.

Often the Church is accused of lacking sensitivity and understanding with regard to the phenomenon of the divorced and remarried without careful reflection on the reasons for her position, which she acknowledges to be based on divine revelation. Yet what is involved here is not an arbitrary action of the Church’s Magisterium, but rather an awareness of the inseparable bond uniting the Eucharist and marriage.

In light of this intrinsic relation, it must be said that what impedes access to sacramental Reconciliation and the Eucharist is not a single sin, which can always be forgiven when the person repents and asks God for pardon. What makes access to these sacraments impossible is, rather, the state (condition of life) in which those who have established a new bond find themselves: a state which in itself contradicts what is signified by the bond between the Eucharist and marriage.

This condition is one that needs to be changed in order to be able to correspond to what is effected in these two sacraments. Non-admission to eucharistic Communion invites these persons, without denying their pain and their wound, to set out on a path toward a full communion that will come about at the times and in the ways determined in light of God’s will.

Beyond various interpretations of the praxis in the early Church, which still do not seem to give evidence of actions substantially different from those of the present day, the fact that she increasingly developed an awareness of the fundamental bond between the Eucharist and marriage signals the outcome of a journey made under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in much the same way as all the sacraments of the Church and their discipline took shape over time.

This helps us to understand why both "Familiaris consortio", and "Sacramentum caritatis" confirmed “the Church’s practice, based on sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2–12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist” (SC, 29).

In this perspective we should mention two elements that must be studied in greater depth. Certainly the Eucharist, on certain conditions, contains an aspect of forgiveness; nevertheless it is not a sacrament of healing. The grace of the eucharistic mystery effects the unity of the Church as the Bride and Body of Christ, and this requires in the recipient of sacramental Communion the objective possibility of allowing himself to be perfectly incorporated into Christ.

At the same time we need to explain much more clearly why the non-admission of those who have established a new bond to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist should not be considered a “punishment” for their condition, but rather a sign pointing the way to a possible path, with the help of God’s grace and continued membership [immanenza] in the ecclesial community. For this reason and for the good of all the faithful, every ecclesial community is called to implement all the appropriate programs for the effective participation of these persons in the life of the Church, while respecting their concrete situation.

Forms of participation in the sacramental economy

The life of these faithful does not cease to be a life called to holiness. Extremely valuable in this regard are several gestures that traditional spirituality has recommended as a support for those in situations that do not permit them to approach the sacraments.

I am thinking, first of all, about the value of spiritual communion, i.e., the practice of communing with the eucharistic Christ in prayer, of offering to him one’s desire for his Body and Blood, together with one’s sorrow over the impediments to the fulfillment of that desire.

It is wrong to think that this practice is extraneous to the Church’s sacramental economy. In reality, so-called “spiritual communion” would make no sense apart from that sacramental economy. It is a form of participation in the Eucharist that is offered to all the faithful; and it is suited to the journey of someone who finds himself in a certain state or particular condition. If understood in this way, such a practice reinforces the sense of the sacramental life.

An analogous practice for the sacrament of Reconciliation could be proposed more systematically. When it is not possible to receive sacramental absolution, it will be useful to promote those practices that are considered – also by sacred Scripture – particularly suited to expressing penitence and the request for forgiveness, and to fostering the virtue of repentance (cf. 1 Pt 4:7–9). I am thinking especially of works of charity, reading the Word of God, and pilgrimages. When appropriate, this could be accompanied by regular meetings with a priest to discuss one’s faith journey. These gestures can express the desire to change and to ask God for forgiveness while waiting for one’s personal situation to develop in such a way as to allow one to approach the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. 

Finally, drawing on my experience as a pastor, I would like to recall that it is not impossible to propose to these faithful, on certain conditions and with suitable follow-up, “the commitment to live in complete continence,” as St. John Paul II declared, “that is, to abstain from those acts proper to spouses.” I can say, after many years of episcopal ministry, that this is a path – involving sacrifice together with joy – that God’s grace does in fact make feasible. I have had the opportunity to readmit to sacramental communion divorced and remarried Catholics who had arrived at such a decision after mature reflection.

Pastoral experience also teaches us that these forms of participation in the sacramental economy are not palliative. Rather, from the perspective of conversion that is proper to Christian life, they are a constant source of peace.

Cases of matrimonial nullity

In conclusion, we must consider the situation of those who believe in conscience that their marriage was invalid. What we have said thus far about sexual difference and the intrinsic relation between marriage and the Eucharist calls for careful reflection on the problems connected with declarations of marital nullity. When the need presents itself and the spouses request an annulment, it becomes essential to verify rigorously whether the marriage was valid and therefore is indissoluble.

This is not the occasion to repeat the fair recommendations that emerged in the responses to the questionnaire presented in "Instrumentum laboris" concerning the necessarily pastoral approach to this whole set of problems. We know very well how difficult it is for the persons involved to turn to their own past, which is marked by profound suffering. At this level too we see the importance of conceiving of doctrine and canon law as a unity.

Faith and the sacrament of matrimony

Among the questions requiring further examination we should mention the relation between faith and the sacrament of matrimony, which Benedict XVI addressed several times, including at the end of his pontificate.

Indeed, the relevance of faith to the validity of the sacrament is one of the topics that the current cultural situation, especially in the West, compels us to weigh very carefully. Today, at least in certain contexts, it cannot be taken for granted that spouses who celebrate a wedding intend “to do what the Church intends to do.” A lack of faith could lead nowadays to the exclusion of the very goods of marriage. Although it is impossible to pass final judgment on a person’s faith, we cannot deny the necessity of a minimum of faith, without which the sacrament of matrimony is invalid.

A suggestion

In the second place, as "Instrumentum laboris" also makes clear, it is to be hoped that some way might be found to expedite cases of nullity – fully respecting all the necessary procedures – and to make the intimately pastoral nature of these processes more evident. 

Along these lines, the upcoming extraordinary assembly could suggest that the pope give a broader endorsement [valorizzare di più] to the ministry of the bishop. Specifically, it could suggest that he examine the feasibility of the proposal, which is no doubt complex, to create a non-judicial canonical procedure which would have as its final arbiter not a judge or a panel of judges, but rather the bishop or his delegate.

I mean a procedure regulated by the law of the Church, with formal methods of gathering and evaluating evidence. Examples of administrative procedures currently provided for by canon law are the procedures for the dissolution of a non-consummated marriage (canons 1697-1706), or for reasons of faith (canons 1143-50), or also the penal administrative procedures (canon 1720).

Hypothetically, one could explore recourse to the following options: the presence in every diocese or in a group of small dioceses of a counseling service for Catholics who have doubts about the validity of their marriage. From there one could start a canonical process for evaluating the validity of the bond, conducted by a suitable appointee (with the help of qualified personnel like notaries as required by canon law); this process would be rigorous in gathering evidence, which would be forwarded to the bishop, together with the opinion of the appointee himself, of the defender of the bond, and of a person who is assisting the petitioner. The bishop (who may also entrust this responsibility to another person with delegated faculties) would be called on to decide whether or not the marriage is null (he may consult several experts before giving his own opinion). It would always be possible for either of the spouses to appeal that decision to the Holy See.

This proposal is not meant as a gimmick to resolve the delicate situation of divorced and remarried persons, but rather intends to make clearer the connection between doctrine, pastoral care, and canon law. […]

(Translated for "Communio" by Michael J. Miller)


It has been said that western Catholic theology is Christianity interpreted by canon lawyers.   Even salvation has been interpreted as a transaction by which God received the level of satisfaction that is legally required to pay for the enormity of human sin, purgatory is doing time for offences committed, and hell is perpetual imprisonment.    In this context Our Lord's teaching on marriage and divorce is seen as one more canonical rule among others that has the authority of Christ himself and is, therefore, an absolute.  

I believe this is an inadequate interpretation of the Gospel, just as the paradigm that sees the Church as the perfect society, held together by papal jurisdiction, is an inadequate understanding of the Church.

In St Paul we have another interpretation of the relationship between Law and Grace.   Humankind has sinned and simply cannot re-connect with God by means of the Law.   Indeed, we are unable to observe all the requirements of the Law whose sole function was to show us our own sinfulness and need for redemption.  The human race was caught in a trap of its own making and needed being rescued by God.   God did this through Christ who not only put things right for us by his own obedience unto death, but he himself became our means to approach the Father, entering into an intimate relationship with us.   We live in him, and he in us.   "I do not live, but Christ lives in me," and he acts in and through me.   This enables me to fulfil, not the Old Law, but the New Law of my life in Christ.  This New Law pre-supposes the presence of Christ in  my heart and my synergy with him through the Spirit.

If Christ's teaching on marriage were only a stricter interpretation of the Law of Moses, then we, as gentiles, would not be bound by it, because we are not bound to follow the Law of Moses.   If it is a law belonging to our new life in Christ, then our ability to abide by it depends on the presence of Christ in my heart and my synergy with him in the Spirit.   If that synergy does not exist, then all the new law will do is demonstrate my inability to follow it and my need for redemption.   You are mistaken if you believe that this synergy with Christ  in the Holy Spirit can be reduced to a legal obligation.  In the Old Testament, Christ says, Moses (and God) adapted to the Jews' hardness of heart in permitting divorce. The coming of Christ changed all this, both in the Church that is his body, and in the heart of each Christian which has become, through baptism and in communion, his tabernacle.  The problem of divorce among Christians is not primarily a legal matter to be solved by canon lawyers and legislation, but a sacramental matter and a spiritual one that involves the conversion required by baptism.  "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder," is primarily prohibiting the break up of a marriage; not so much a prohibiting of another marriage when the first breaks up.   Nevertheless, it does imply a radical difference between the first and the second marriage: only the first is made in heaven as well as on earth.   However, it is generally agreed that there are situations in which a separation is not only permitted but is also desirable.   We are back to "hardness of heart"   Things are not so cut and dried as so-called "conservatives" make out.

Church Law is constructed on the lines of secular Roman Law; but it differs in two important respects.   Secular law can only function where the government can enforce it, and behind it there is always the possibility of physical force.   Church Law, however, receives its empowerment from the self-giving trinitarian love of God which is manifested in Christ, and from the answering self-offering in Christ of the Church throughout the world, both loves - God's love for us and our love  for God -  being expressed in the sacriifice of the Mass; and this synergy of loves results in universal communion of ecclesial love. As the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says, " ...the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows."   It is the source of the power that is necessary for Canon Law to function, and it is the goal of Canon Law to enable members of the Church to participate in the liturgy through loving God.  

Canon Law is the servant of this meeting between God and human beings, not its master: the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.   Let me give you a concrete example.   When we first went to Tambogrande in 1981, we found a community of wonderful people who were deeply religious, but whose sexual lives were often in a chaotic state. Most were not married; many men had more than one woman, and it was generally accepted that men are unable to control their desires.   Of course there were also people who were very faithful to their partner, whether they were married or not.   In our evangelization, what were we to do?   When they came to communion "like hungry dogs" - to quote Graham Greene - were we to turn them away because they were not married?  What would come first, giving them Christ or the rules?   Like the majority of missionaries I met, we concentrated on giving them Christ.   We did this, not because we approved of their morality, but because the rules only take on an importance once people are in an intimate relationship with Christ.   Christ's love comes first: doing his will to the best of our ability follows.
Rules have to fit in to this context.  All Cardinal Walter Kasper is doing is trying to make legal what we learned from pastoral experience.   

This is all bound up with the New Evangelization, putting an encounter with the Person of Christ in the centre of our message and not allowing rules to get in the way, whether the person contacted is meeting Christ for the first time or is repenting after doing things which separated him or her from Christ. There should be no situation, none whatever, that impedes a repentant sinner from returning to communion through absolution and penance.

Cardinal Burke does not answer Cardinal Kasper's argument.   All he does is repeat Christ's teaching which both he and Cardinal Kasper accept.

 Let us look at a few examples of concrete circumstances where it is my belief that communion should be  .  Let us leave out those whose first marriage is actually null and void and haven't the means to put their case to a Roman court.

  • There is the case of an Anglican who has divorced and re-married.   Under the rules, if he has matrimonial relations with his second wife, if he becomes a Catholic, he cannot go to communion. have really stable families
  • A married couple splits up.   They re-marry and settle down to have really stable families.   Very often, second marriages last.   It would be against the good of the second families, would do harm to everyone concerned, if they were to split up again.  Usually, there is no realistic possibility for the original couples to get back together. The second family, once there are children, has become a human reality that must be respected and supported.   I would consider it my pastoral duty as a priest to support the unity of a second family which, at the same time, is the reason why the couple cannot go to communion.   That does not mean that the second union has become a sacramental marriage: but it does mean that the element of sin has been forgiven through repentance, penance and absolution and the couple is doing the best it can in the new circumstances.
Cardinal Scola does not deal with the case being forward.  His main argument is stated in this paragraph:
What makes access to these sacraments impossible is, rather, the state (condition of life) in which those who have established a new bond find themselves: a state which in itself contradicts what is signified by the bond between the Eucharist and marriage.

There is a much stronger connection between communion and membership of the Church, church unity being the res sacramenti of the Church, yet there are occasions when non-Catholic Christians may legally go to communion.   Therefore, this argument of the Cardinal does not support a blanket ban on people who are divorced and re-married.   The Eucharist has so many facets, so many levels of meaning for just one of them to justify a complete ban. 

The Orthodox would say that, according to the akribeia, or strict nature of things, communion should only be taken by people in communion with the Church; but there are occasions and situations when the Church meets the demands of love and uses oiconomia by lifting the ban on certain people from going to communion.   The Catholic Church allows non-Catholic people in certain circumstances to receive communion.   We are arguing that this should be extended to divorced and re-married people.  Cardinal Scola does not give a single reason for his position except for one that is really not strong enough.

The only condition that would justify a complete ban would be if it were said that those who are living in a second marriage are, for that reason, living in mortal sin - a continuous emnity with God; but this is not being said.   To take advantage of spiritual communion instead of sacramental communion would be impossible if they were in mortal sin.  If they are considered to be capable of true repentance, there is no reason to refuse them absolution.  If they are capable of spiritual communion, there is no compelling reason to ban them from sacramental communion.  The reason given by Cardinal Scola is simply not strong enough.

Here is another Vatican official, the 49 year old Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.   I don't think he addresses Cardinal Kasper's central point about the centrality of Christ rather than rules.   Nevertheless, it does put the oikonomia of the Eastern churches in a historical context.  I therefore include it.


by Cyril Vasil, S.J.

my source: S. Magister
Influence of Roman and Byzantine Civil Law on Divorce and Second Marriages

In the pre-Christian era Roman law permitted divorce in general for two sets of motives: upon agreement of the parties (dissidium), or on the basis of a fault by one of the parties (repudium). […]

The greatest reformer of Roman law, the emperor Justinian (527–565), personally desired that his reform of marriage law be applied also within the Church. […] Novella 117 of Justinian was a compromise between the tradition of the Eastern Church, which permitted separation for reasons of adultery or in order to enter a monastery, and Roman law, which permitted divorce for many more reasons.

It is often asserted that the Eastern Church, in its desire to live in harmony with civil authorities, often made concessions at the cost of compromising the message of the gospel. However, during the first millennium we can say that even in the East the Church adhered to the axiom of Saint Jerome: “aliae sunt leges Caesarum aliae Christi” (the laws of Caesar are one thing, the laws of Christ another). […]

We first notice a real change in the Nomocanon in 14 titles compiled by Patriarch Photius of Constantinople in 883. This collection affirms the indissolubility of marriage while it also provides a list of causes for divorce introduced by Justinian’s legislation. The successive development in the Byzantine Empire reinforced the role of the Church, while the Church accepted a new relationship to the State. […]

Up until the end of the ninth century, it was still possible to contract a civil marriage, but by the year 895, on the basis of Emperor Leo VI’s Novella 89, the Church was declared the only institution with legal competence for the celebration of matrimony. In this way, the priestly blessing became a necessary part of the legal act of marriage.

Thus, the Church became the guarantor of marriage as a social institution. Following this, ecclesiastical tribunals gradually, and then in 1086 definitively, received exclusive competence for the examination of marriage cases. As a consequence the Eastern Church had to conform its practices to State and civil legislation. Then once civil legislation began to allow divorce and successive remarriages, the Eastern Church was obligated to recognize these practices. […]

The successive spread of Christianity from its center in Constantinople to other missionary territories and nations brought about the geographical extension of the judicial-disciplinary practices of this tradition as well as the diffusion of the theological principles that founded such practices.

In this context today, we see diverse Orthodox Churches, which, despite the fact that they are institutionally and hierarchically separate, nevertheless follow most of the same disciplinary and spiritual principles.

Divorce in the Russian Orthodox Church

Once Christianity arrived in Russia from ancient Byzantium, the provisions of Byzantine law regarding divorce were incorporated into its laws along with some modifications regarding the Russian situation. […] 

In the so-called synodal period (1721–1917), a fixed number of reasons for divorce was established and clarified by State authorities in collaboration with ecclesiastical authorities. […]

In 1917–1918 the Pan-Russian Council (Vserossijskij Pomestnij Sobor) of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted new regulations concerning divorce, reacting to recent secular laws established by the Soviets. […]

The Synod established on April 7 and 20, 1918, that marriage blessed by the Church is indissoluble. Divorce “is admitted by the Church only in condescension to human weakness and out of care for the salvation of man”, on the conditions that there has been a breakup of the marriage and that reconciliation is impossible. The decision to concede an ecclesiastical divorce falls under the competence of the ecclesiastical tribunals, which work at the request of the spouses, provided that the reason presented for divorce conforms to those approved by the Holy Synod. […]

The Russian Orthodox Church today admits fourteen valid reasons for permitting divorce. […] However, from the study of actual divorce decrees or declarations issued by the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, it seems that it is not possible to deduce any particular method for conducting a canonical investigation, or to understand clearly the reasoning behind the application of a given motive for granting divorce. Often one simply finds in this documentation an ecclesiastical divorce decree, together with the request presented by the interested party, a statement that the couple has not been living together, and an indication that a civil divorce has been granted. Following this, the dissolution of the religious marriage and permission to remarry is granted.

Divorce in the Greek Orthodox Church

[…] Beginning in the twelfth century, divorce was received in canonical legislation and in practice by the Greek Church. Slowly, causes for divorce were introduced that were modeled on the morals and the situation of society. […]

Beginning in the seventeenth century, divorce was made more difficult. […] At the end of the eighteenth century the compilation of laws known as the Pedalion allowed only one motive for divorce: adultery. […]

However, both husband and wife are excommunicated if they are divorced for reasons other than adultery and then take a new spouse. Such persons are subject to the canonical punishment of seven years’ prohibition from the Eucharist. The Pedalion recalls that according to the Council of Carthage (407), spouses divorced for reasons other than adultery must reconcile or never remarry. The Pedalion was published with the consent of the patriarch and became above all the recognized text in the Greek Church. However, it did not have a strongly restrictive influence regard- ing the practice of divorce.

Greece obtained its independence in 1832; matrimonial affairs were regulated by a royal decree issued in 1835. […] The Greek State recognized the sacramental character of marriage and entrusted marital affairs to the competence of the Greek Orthodox Church, except for questions of divorce, which remained an affair of the State. […] If this tribunal decreed a divorce, the bishop was obliged by civil law to grant a “spiritual divorce”. […]

The divorced spouse (whose civil divorce was recognized by the ecclesiastical authority) who wished to contract a new marriage had first to perform an assigned penance (epitimia). Following this, the Church ritual for the second marriage had a penitential character. […]

A third marriage was conceded only to those previously divorced persons who were at least forty years old and without children. However, these individuals were prohibited from receiving the Eucharist for five years. […] Fourth marriages were prohibited. […]

In 1982 a further reform of family law took place in Greece. This reform introduced an option between civil and religious marriage. […]

In the case of divorce, only the civil courts have competence, according to the actual Greek judicial structure. Only after the civil decree of divorce has been issued can the Church decide whether to grant a religious divorce. This canonical dissolution of matrimony pertains only to those who have celebrated a canonical marriage and wish to contract another. […]

Looking now at both the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Churches’ policies and practices, we see that valid motives for divorce can be divided in three groups:

1. Adultery and other similar immoral acts;
2. Physical or legal situations similar to death (disappearance, attempted homicide, incurable illness, detention, separation for a long period, etc.); 
3.Moral impossibility of a common life (encouragement of adultery).

Juridical Procedures in Countries with “Personal Statutes”

[…] In Lebanon, as in other countries in the ex-Ottoman Empire, the life of these single, Christian communities is governed by so-called personal statutes. In these personal statutes, each Church defines itself and its relationship to the other ecclesial communities. […]

In this way, each Church was “obligated” to define reasons and conditions for the declaration of nullity of a marriage, the dissolution of the marriage bond, the separation of the spouses while remaining in the bond of marriage, and divorce, as well as the possibility to contract a new marriage.

A look at these approaches to marriage questions in some Orthodox Churches leads us to conclude that, in concrete practice, the Orthodox Churches either endorse civil divorces or recognize them more or less covertly. […]

In actual practice, long-term separation of spouses is considered the equivalent to divorce because in Orthodox theology, common life is the essential element of marriage, and the conception of separation "manente vinculo", as it is applied in the Catholic Church, is unknown in the Orthodox Churches.

Indissolubility of Marriage: Does a Common Orthodox Doctrine Exist?

In seeking a common Orthodox doctrine regarding the indissolubility of marriage, divorce, and the marriage of divorced persons, we confront the question of whether it is possible to speak of a common doctrine or of a “magisterium” of the Orthodox Churches. […]

The first difficulty we encounter is the fact that in the past, few Orthodox authors attempted a profound theoretical reflection on the question of common Orthodox doctrine. […]

In general, we can say that on the basis of the Gospel text, all the Orthodox authors at heart recognize the indissolubility of Christian marriage as one of its characteristics and teach this doctrine to all Christian spouses as an ideal toward which to aim. […]

At any rate, even as Orthodox bishops acknowledge the possibility of divorce and remarriage, they admit this only as an exception that confirms the rule of the unity and indissolubility of marriage.

Among Orthodox authors and bishops, opponents to divorce are not lacking. Some of these authorities uphold the complete observance of the indissolubility of marriage and the impossibility of divorce for any reason.

For example, the Russian Archbishop Ignatius (in the Russian Orthodox Church, Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, 1807-1867) did not permit divorce for any reason, not even for adultery.

More moderate, but nevertheless appreciable opposition to divorce has also been evidenced both by Archbishop Iakovos (Coucouzis, 1911-2005), the Orthodox Metropolitan of North and South America (1959-1996), who insisted already in 1966 that concessions of divorce should be limited, and by the Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III (1923–2012), who following his enthronement in 1971 reduced the many reasons considered valid for granting divorce in the Coptic Church to one: adultery. […]

Concluding Considerations

[…] For the Catholic canonist accustomed to reasoning according to categories of matrimonial procedural law, it is often difficult to understand the fact that, in the Orthodox Church, there is no talk ever about procedural questions about marriage cases per se, that is, there are no roles for an advocate, a promoter of justice, a defender of the bond, and there are no instances of appeal, among other juridical structures.

The Orthodox Churches have practically never elaborated a clear doctrine regarding the indissolubility of marriage that could bring the New Testament requirements to the judicial level. This fact is the key that allows us to understand why the Orthodox Churches, even through the expressions of their supreme authorities – oftentimes only passively – accept the sociological reality. […]

The Position of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church does not recognize the procedures involved in the declaration of the dissolution of a marriage bond, or those applied in the case of a divorce on account of adultery, in the manner in which these procedures are employed by a number of Orthodox Churches, nor does it recognize the Orthodox application of the principle of oikonomia (which, in this case, is considered contrary to divine law), because these dissolutions presuppose the intervention of an ecclesiastical authority in the breakup of a valid marriage agreement.

In the decisions in these matters reached by the authority of the Orthodox Churches, the distinction between a “declaration of nullity”, “annulment”, “dissolution”, or “divorce” is usually lacking or is practically unknown. […]

Many Orthodox Churches do little more than simply ratify the divorce sentence issued by the civil court. In other Orthodox Churches, as, for example, in the Middle East, in which ecclesial authorities hold exclusive competence in matrimonial matters, declarations dissolving religious marriages are issued solely by applying the principle of oikonomia.

At the beginning of this essay we asked whether the Orthodox practice could represent “a way out” for the Catholic Church in the face of the growing instability of sacramental marriages, by providing a pastoral approach toward those Catholics who, after the failure of a sacramental marriage and a subsequent civil divorce, contract a second, civil marriage.

Before responding to this question, another question should be posed. Is it thinkable to resolve the difficulties that Christian marriages must confront in the contemporary world by lowering the demands of indissolubility? […]

Christ brought his new, revolutionary message, one that was “countercultural” to the pagan world. His disciples announced his good news, fearlessly presenting near impossible demands that contradicted the culture of that age. The world today is perhaps similarly marked by the neo-paganism of consumption, comfort, and egoism, full of new cruelties committed by methods ever more modern and ever more dehumanizing. Faith in supernatural principles is now more than ever subject to humiliation.

All this brings us to consider whether “hardness of heart” is a convincing argument to muddle the clearness of the teaching of the Gospel on the indissolubility of Christian marriage.

But as a response to the many questions and doubts, and to the many temptations to find a “short cut” or to “lower the bar” for the existential leap that one makes in the great “contest” of married life, in all this confusion among so many contrasting and distracting voices, still today resound the words of the Lord: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9).,


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